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Reviewed 21 September 2019

Overview
I cannot explain how amazing this place is - I’d seen it before and thought it looked absolutely amazing (and it was in reality) but finding that this was an option for the Train Suite Shiki-Shima overnight hotel stay meant the choice was made. Depending on your suite category onboard the train, you can select one of three hotels in the area for an overnight stay - I think now though, depending on availability, all train guests can opt for Zaborin, though it does cost extra. You can check out my posts on Instagram of Zaborin and there is an IGTV video too.

Designed by the renowned architect nA Nakayama in 2016, this Ryokan only features 15 suites yet has the most incredible amount of space both in the minimalist concrete building, internal courtyards and gardens. As I think is common in many ryokans, there is a communal foot bath, sometimes hidden away but Zaborin explain that this is “hidden in full view of the central courtyard”. A word of advice - this is not the iron fountain in the entrance courtyard in case anyone thinks it might be! There is a large central garden courtyard between the circular bedroom wing - here there is a covered foot bath which you can reach through a ramp from one of the doors leading off the hallway (slippers and towels are provided from a F&M (Fortnum and Mason) basket.

Would I stay here again? Yes, yes, yes! The pictures look incredible in winter, so would probably want to come back then. The hotel said it can get some extreme snow, particularly in February, as amazing as the hotel looks now, it would be an amazing winter destination too.

Location
Zaborin is located in the Niseko area of the island of Hokkaido, just under 100km (about 60 miles) from Sapporo (would take less than a two-hour drive). Coming as part of the Train Suite Shiki-Shima 4-day trip (two nights on the train and one at Zaborin in the middle) we were driven from Datemombetsu train station, this took about two hours to get to Zaborin but included a 15 minute stop at the scenic lookout point for Lake Toya. On our return, it took about 90 minutes (no stop) to go back to Toya station to rejoin the train.

Zaborin is located in a Hanazano wood facing Mount NIseko-Annupuri - the grounds are absolutely stunning and the fresh mountain air so refreshing. Coming to Japan in summer as we arrive in Tokyo, we realize that with Japan being such a long country (north to south) the seasons are not in sync. As we travel north from Tokyo on the Train Suite Shiki-Shima we realize that on Hokkaido island they are seeing the very first signs of Autumn and it’s significantly cooler than Tokyo (on Honshu, the main island of Japan).

Accommodation
Each suite features a large hallway, complete with low cupboards with every conceivable size of slipper for use while inside. To the left is a small pantry kitchen, as you walk through the hall to the left is the living area (complete with mini-bar, Apple TV and comfortable sofas - and the most incredible view from the wide terrace). From the living area there is a large bedroom area to one side (also with the incredible views) and the most wardrobe space I think I’ve seen in any hotel). The bed was gigantic, exceptionally comfortably with super-soft pillows (a nice relief from the Tempur style firm pillow on the Train Suite Shiki-Shima). To the other side of the living space is a tatami room - sunken seating in the middle of tatami mats, but I think this could also be configured as an additional futon sleeping area as (in yet more wardrobes) there were copious amounts of duvets and pillows. From this room there is a large low glass window onto one of two internal courtyards. While these courtyards views allow in light to the back of the suite, with the panoramic view from the front of the suite you spend most of your looking in awe there.

There is also a small WC off the hallway - this has the gold standard Toto Washlet automatic toilet. As you enter, the lights come on automatically, as does the toilet open its lid, lights up the bowl and gives a refreshing spray before use. There is every conceivable button for cleaning etc. and it automatically detects when you are finished and flushes/sanitizes automatically. As with everything in Zaborin, even the hand wash sink is incredible - copper piping push button sink with an ornate metal overlay.

If the rest of the hotel and bedroom suite isn’t wow enough, the bathroom definitely is - there is grey slate everywhere and wooden sliding doors; another WC (and yes fully automatic like the guest WC); dual sinks in the main bathroom area. There is everything you could possibly need, lots of storage by the sides of the mirror and underneath too - just stunning design and everything kept in its place. Through the main bathroom area a glass door leads to the inside onsen. The suite has two natural hot-spring fed baths, a slightly larger grey slated one inside and a wooden one on the large deck. You access the deck from doors in the bathroom area, bedroom and living space - most of the doors slide open and there are internal bug slides in each of the opening windows. There is also a massive overhead shower and huge pump dispensers of local organic toiletries - shampoo, conditioner and body wash.

While the suite does not have air-conditioning (other than the natural breeze from the mountains) there are fans provided and a heated floor (and additional heaters) for winter. The terrace, again finished in grey slate, has views to die for - you can see the landscape and the mountains and sky behind constantly change the view while sitting in the hot onsen.

Food & Drink
As is traditional in a Ryokan, dinner is served at a fixed time, usually early - at Zaborin the elaborate nine course meal is served at 6pm. The restaurant is split into lots of different room areas, for both dinner and breakfast we had one for two people overlooking the pond at the front of the hotel (illuminated at night). I can’t elaborate enough on how well designed every aspect of this building is - these dining areas are no different, from the antique-style furniture, cutlery, lighting, glassware etc. - just exceptional.

While the traditional meal is normally set, all of our dietary requirements have been passed to Zaborin from the Shiki-Shima, mine being vegetarian without eating mushrooms or tofu. The menus has been adjusted accordingly, mine being all vegetables and just amazingly presented. I don’t normally take photographs of food, nor post them on Instagram, but here I couldn’t help but photograph every course as each was visually stunning. The meal however is a bit of a marathon and while absolutely amazing to look at, is so very different for a Western palate.

Facilities & Service
Skiing is available in winter, so the Ryokan can organize transport - one side of the entrance (the reception is on the first floor serviced by lift or the most incredibly designed wooden staircase) looks like a large ski locker room area. On the other side is the restaurant - this is a collection of individual rooms, some with views across the lake and gardens, a tatami mat room with sunken seats, a chef’s view counter table and a barbecue room in the middle of a courtyard pond (complete with miniature frogs).

The hotel (sorry Ryokan) does not have a gym or swimming pool which is probably why it’s categorized as four star rather than what should be five star deluxe, but does have incredible seating areas throughout, even in the corridors. There is a bar with a panoramic mountain view, a traditional tea ceremony room, library and a beautiful seating area next to the main reception with a stunning log fire.
There are some display cabinets selling a limited amount of locally sourced products. Above the traditional Japanese barbecue room(this structure combining both is another creative masterpiece) there is a massage room - different types of massage can be organized in advance for two people at a time.

ThePrivateTraveller’s top tips (any areas for improvement?)

* The traditional dinner was fantastic, but (with a western palate) not something I would want over multiple nights. Was amazing to get the western option breakfast, a western-style dinner option too would be wonderful.

ThePrivateTraveller’s absolute highlights:
* Design (just incredible)
* Location (stunning views everywhere you look)
* Suites and the bathroom (just wow)

You can check out my blog and other travel information on my website (link in profile), ThePrivateTraveller dot com. You can also find me on Instagram @theprivatetraveller.

Room tip: All suites are the same, but have different views and bed types.
Date of stay: September 2019
    • Location
    • Rooms
    • Service
4  Thank ThePrivateTraveller
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.
TakakiyoS, 支配人 at Zaborin, responded to this reviewResponded 27 November 2019

Dear ThePrivateTraveller sama,

Warm greetings from Zaborin!

Thank you so much for your recent stay in Zaborin and Shikishima Train. We really appreciate your comments on all details about Zaborin and we are very much pleased to learn that you enjoyed all experience while you were staying with us.

We all hope you come back again on your next vacation and look forward to welcoming you in maybe winter season as you mentioned, although every seasons are so beautiful in this area.

With best regards,
Taka Sekine – General Manager

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This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 23 May 2019 via mobile

Visiting this ryokan at its off peak season (hence with a more forgiving damage to purse). It is fair for its popularity during winter time if one does not mind paying a Niseko premium for the privacy. Hiding deep in the mountains, the zen aura of Zaborin manages to top the charts of ryokan in the area of Kutchan.

The architecture played a vital role: the communal bar and sitting areas capture the all year round beauty of Mount Yotei at its best; each room is essentially a villa - well spaced out from one and other thus ensuring optimal privacy. Guests in each room have their own private enclosed dining area at the dining hall.

Zaborin paid much attention on food and the plating. Vegetable dishes were particularly impressive. Limited selection on wine, especially on sake though.

Service was sterling and staff generally helpful/proficient in English (even by email in the weeks leading up to the stay - they attended to requests with restaurant and car bookings).

An excellent ryokan and is worthy to check it out. There are however equally good places to stay throughout Hokkaido (less pricey), if one dares to go further inland with a significant drop in English proficiency.

Date of stay: May 2019
3  Thank bona_tiger
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.
TakakiyoS, 支配人 at Zaborin, responded to this reviewResponded 14 June 2019

Dear bona_tiger sama,

Warm greetings from Niseko !

Thank you so much for your comments on every detail from your recent stay in Zaborin.

On behalf of the team at Zaborin, I would like to express sincere appreciation for your compliments especially about our language skill. As you aware that our customer service team is all Japanese and some time we are not good enough to communicate with international guests in English, although we are making efforts to learn it day to day.

Hoping you come back to Niseko for your future vacations, we all look forward to welcoming you again at Zaborin.


With best regards,
Taka Sekine – General Manager

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Reviewed 6 April 2019

Zaborin was the second stop of our holiday in Japan. We Stayed here for 2 nights. My parent and I had a suite called Yoshisu with additional tatami room. The view from our suite was stunning. I did enjoy the beautiful sunrise while relaxing the private onsen bath. The downside of the suite was that it was not big enough for 3 people, the additional tatami room was simple and tiny and no place to put my suitcase.

The breakfast and dinner are included in the room rate and was served in the ground floor with forest and pond view. The old lady who served our breakfast paid a lot of attention to make us feel comfortable although she did not speak English. The traditional Japanese breakfast was the best one I ever had, not complicated but, compared to the Japanese breakfast in other high end hotels, you could see why it’s different enough to be article- worthy. The Kaiseki dinner, the combination of natural ingredients without added flavours and meticulous presentation, was simply great. The ingredients of the breakfast / dinner varied every day during our stay.

Date of stay: October 2018
1  Thank David K
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.
TakakiyoS, 支配人 at Zaborin, responded to this reviewResponded 12 June 2019

Dear David K sama,

Warm greetings from Niseko !

Thank you so much for your feedback on your recent stay in Zaborin.
I am pleased to hear you enjoyed the onsen and our traditional Japanese breakfast and Kaiseki dinner.

Hope you will come back to Niseko for your future holidays and look forward to welcoming you again at Zaborin.

With best regards,
Taka Sekine – General Manager

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This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 29 January 2019

A friend and I stayed here while skiing at nearby Hanazono (Niseko) in Jan 2019. We had a twin with futon style beds and indoor and outdoor onsen baths. While it's a ryokan / guesthouse rather than hotel the distinction was somewhat lost on me - it looked and felt like a hotel.

The building is amazing (futuristic / industrial meets wabi sabi - somehow managing to be cosy and cool simultaneously) and the setting is gorgeous (tucked into the hill and woods with far reaching uninterrupted views), staff were solicitous and friendly, and the food was awesome (although unadventurous eaters may struggle) - fine dining standard - and a very good Japanese BBQ one night. We also had a tea ceremony and really good massage there too - what's not to love? I was blown away and would return given any opportunity :)

Hanozono was the quietest of the ski areas nearby and is limited in slopes for beginners, but if you're after backcountry or off piste skiing it would be my first choice as the lifts are less busy and there's less competition for the fresh tracks. The backcountry powder skiing is the best I have ever done. Go before they finish the big luxury hotel complex they're building next to the slopes!

Date of stay: January 2019
  • Trip type: Travelled with friends
    • Value
    • Rooms
    • Service
Thank LR4x4
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.
TakakiyoS, 支配人 at Zaborin, responded to this reviewResponded 12 February 2019

Dear LR4x4 sama,

Warm greetings from Niseko !

Thank you so much for your feedback on your recent stay in Zaborin.
I am pleased to know that you enjoyed our facility, 100% natural onsen and our culinary such as Japanese charcoal BBQ.

We hope you come back to Niseko for your ski vacations and look forward to welcoming you again at Zaborin.

With best regards,
Taka Sekine – General Manager

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Reviewed 25 January 2019 via mobile

This onsen is secluded for privacy, a little hard to find if you’re driving and using gps but it’s all totally worth it when you arrive. Tucked away in high snow carved roads, you arrive at a very unassuming building with a frozen fountain in the centre of it all. As soon you enter, you can immediately tell that and there was no expense spared at this property.

The decor is modern and minimalist with stunning views of winter hills that are as breathtaking as it can get. Each of the 15 rooms have two onsen tubs - one indoor and one outdoor. The onsen piping goes as deep as 1km into the ground with unfiltered hot spring water. As soon as you enter the onsen room, you smell the sulfites, and even see them when you in the water. It’s really as pure as it gets if you want the hot spring experience.

In terms of service, a tea ceremony service is available in the afternoon where fresh matcha tea can be made under the guidance of a tea master. The food is delicious, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get seated a room with a view of a snow covered pond which brings tranquility during breakfast and dinner.

If you’re skiing, Zaborin has a shuttle that goes to Hanazono on request. Once finished, use the lodge phone to call the property and a Zaborin car will arrive within 15 minutes after a day of skiing.

5 stars for this property. The price may be steeper than other onsen’s, but it has the most marvelous rooms, finishings, service, and onsen. As for standards, it’s really up there with any other top property in the world, and it’s still rather new, so I’m sure after everyone will hear more about Zaborin in future publications.

Date of stay: January 2019
Trip type: Travelled as a couple
5  Thank GrantL132
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.
TakakiyoS, 支配人 at Zaborin, responded to this reviewResponded 14 June 2019

Dear GrantL 132 sama,

Warm greetings from Niseko !

Thank you so much for your comments on every detail from your last winter stay in Zaborin.
We are very pleased to learn that you enjoyed our 100% natural onsen, our cuisine “Kita kaiseki” and our service at ryokan.
On behalf of the team at Zaborin, I would like to express our appreciation on your kind words and compliments about us. Our tea ceremony master is more than happy to show you how to brew matcha tea again.

We hope you come back to Niseko for your future vacations, looking forward to welcoming you again at Zaborin.

With best regards,
Taka Sekine – General Manager

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